Paul Sinha: In His Own Words

As he brings his twelfth show to The Stand, Paul Sinha talks about being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and taking risks in his comedy career

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 3 minutes
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Paul Sinha
Photo by Andy Hollingworth
Published 24 Jul 2023

Two weeks after the 2017 festival finished I woke up with a stiff right shoulder. Everything's been a rollercoaster since then.

In 2018, my show was about my health, but it turned out that the medical issues I was dealing with – diabetes, a frozen shoulder – were nothing compared to what was actually going on. What I remember from 2018 (other than having something of an online fisticuff with Kate Copstick) was that it was the first festival that I didn't genuinely love every second of.

I was slowing down. I was tired. I hadn't brought the energy to Edinburgh that I usually bring. I was unaware at the time why that was. There's a couple of reviews that describe my delivery as listless or expressionless. They would've been unaware that what they were watching was the early symptoms of Parkinson's disease. 

I've learned to be pragmatic about it; very grateful for the way my life has panned out. I have a career that I absolutely love, which is not necessarily the case for all people diagnosed with Parkinson's. I love being a stand-up comedian. 

2019 was a blockbuster year: I won an award for Best Overseas Show in New Zealand; I won the British Quiz Championship; I got married. But it was also a bittersweet year with the reveal of Parkinson's. Then the pandemic hit. In the early, brutal stage of the pandemic, I was laid out in bed for two-and-a-half weeks with Covid, barely able to get to the bathroom. That was a very interesting first year of marriage. 

I have no problem being called a comedian with Parkinson's disease. Anything that helps sells tickets is fine. But, I'm not just the comedian with Parkinson's, anymore than I'm the Asian comedian or the gay comedian. I feel almost tame in comparison to the new generation of LGBTQIA+ comedians coming through who have a multitude of talents and a real confidence to take on the world. I remember, when I started, having none of these things. I sometimes feel like a bit of a tame grandad – although, there's very much an unfiltered nature to a lot of what I do on stage now. I think: 'I don't know how many years I've got doing this, let's enjoy it.'  

In Pauly Bengali there will be a lot of jokes and music. The music is, for me, the really exciting part because I can't really sing or play the keyboard as well I could before Parkinson's kicked in. I didn't know, last year, if the gamble was going to work. But it did. Also, the not knowing whether it's going to be everyone's cup of tea is – creatively – really, really exciting. I'm well aware how it carries the risk of failing. But I feel I'm at a stage in my career where I'd like to take a few more gambles. 

You can't spend your whole life waving an impotent fist at imaginary woes. It is a tough month. But I enjoy it more than most. The fact that I'm coming for the third year in a row – having come for the pandemic year of 2021 as well – is testament to how much I love the festival. 

I love it for what it is. I will never do a short run. I'll only do a masochistic three-and-a-half week run. The idea of leaving before everyone else – urgh – it doesn't feel right.